Ruth Muir, owner of Credo Restaurant on Queen Charlotte Street, was called up by a representative of “TA Marketing Services” in May this year.
The salesman – who claimed his company “worked with” TripAdvisor – offered to boost her rating on the popular travel website for one calendar year by deleting bad reviews and writing good ones. But a TripAdvisor spokesman insisted TA Marketing Services had nothing to do with them – and urged any other businesses that have been contacted by the company to report it to them.
Ms Muir was later sent a contract by TA Marketing Services that promised to “improve the restaurant’s ratings by a combination of leaving good quality positive reviews” and “challenging and removing unfair negative reviews”.
The document, which was signed by “senior sales representative” Eddie McMillan and stated the company was based in Blackpool, also pledged to “maintain continuously the publication of positive reviews”.
Ms Muir, who has since reported the company to Trip-Advisor, said the services offered by TA Marketing risked undermining the hard work of businesses across the city and beyond.
She said: “As a restaurant owner, I believe you should earn your place on TripAdvisor and not buy it. As much as it would be good for the restaurant [buying it], it would just feel really horrible.
“And the only way of really knowing if TA Marketing would go through with it is just to give them the money and see what happens. If you gave them the money, I don’t know whether they would have cut and run.
“The whole point in TripAdvisor is that it’s supposed to be unbiased reviews. If you buy your way into the top ten then that’s massively wrong.
“It was quite shocking when the guy called up – he sold a good story. He was saying that they work alongside TripAdvisor.”
A TripAdvisor spokesman said: “This company is not in any way affiliated with TripAdvisor. We believe that companies like this have the potential to do harm to the reputation of the travel industry, and we are aggressive in our efforts to pursue them.
“Our dedicated investigations team is proactive and extremely effective at catching those who may attempt to solicit money from business owners through the illegitimate use of our brand name.
“We would encourage any business that has been approached by this company to report it to us.”
TA Marketing Services could not be contacted at the time of going to press. A company in South Wales operating under a similar name, TA Marketing, was found to have nothing to do with the scheme.